The Bering Sea Project was founded upon the implementation and science plans for the Bering Ecosystem Study (‘‘BEST’’) supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (‘‘BSIERP’’) supported by the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB). The overarching goal of the two programs was to increase our understanding of the processes that maintain the structure and function of the Bering Sea marine ecosystem, and to learn how natural and anthropogenic variation in sea ice and other physical forcing mechanisms may produce natural, economic, sociological and cultural impacts to the ecosystem.
Building a coordinated program between two organizations with their own distinct cultures was accomplished through the goodwill and support of the leadership in both organizations, in particular, Clarence Pautzke (former Executive Director of NPRB), whose vision and commitment played an instrumental role in this achievement. Support from the scientific community, particularly the dedicated efforts of George L. Hunt Jr., who led the process to create the BEST Science and Implementation Plans, was also essential.
Photo Credit: Jordan Watson
Key Programmatic Elements
Also key to the program management structure was the establishment of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a steering committee of six scientists (three supported by NSF and three by NPRB) elected from within the program, who work together with NPRB and NSF program managers to help build integration and move this ambitious project toward successful outcomes. The result of this administrative integration was an NSF and NPRB coordinated request for proposals in 2006 and a common program management plan that laid out key programmatic elements such as:
Each organization’s funding commitments
The geographic scope of the programs
The division of emphasis on ecosystem components
Review and selection of proposals
Planning and coordination of field and modeling activities
Data collection, sharing and archival activities
In responding to the 2006 call for proposals, NOAA committed major in-kind resources ( ~$11 M) of personnel, equipment, and ship time. Further in-kind commitments from other organizations including USFWS and USCG resulted in a total program investment of over $50 million that has supported over 100 principal investigators and many dozens of post-doctoral associates and graduate students from 32 academic, federal, state and private institutions across the US and Canada. Combining the pooled efforts of all scientific personnel, an astounding total of over 24,000 person-days of fieldwork was safely accomplished during the four field seasons (2007–2010). And that total doesn't include the critical support of the many US Coast Guard, NOAA, USFWS, UNOLS, and charter vessel crewmembers who enabled hundreds of sea days in all weather conditions!